On the road in Jewish Cuba

This past February, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford sponsored “Shalom Cuba,” an eight-day tour of Cuba’s Jewish sites, past and present. Twenty-four travelers enjoyed the beautiful, sunny landscape, friendly hospitality and fascinating history of the Cuban people. The highlight of the trip was visiting and learning about the small but resilient Havana and Santa Clara Jewish communities.

Before the Revolution of 1959, Cuba boasted a Jewish community numbering more than 15,000 people, plus five synagogues and six day schools. After Castro came to power, 90 percent of the community, many of them business owners, left the country. Today, less than 1,500 Jews and three congregations remain on the island. In 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba changed its constitution to allow religious freedom for all. Since then, the community began to rebuild the deteriorated synagogues with assistance from private donors, the Joint Distribution Committee and Canadian Jewish organizations. Slowly the Jews of Cuba have reconnected to the roots. When film director Steven Spielberg visited the country in 2002, he was so moved that he wrote in a note before leaving, “When I see how much cultural restoration has been performed by you and others, it reminds me again about why I am so proud to be a Jew.”

CAP: Some of the 24 participants in the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford’s “Shalom Cuba” trip.

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